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Attorneys from Wahlberg, Woodruff, Nimmo & Sloane, LLP discussed the outcome of two meetings with Tim Lynch, vice president and general counsel of the University of Michigan, Wednesday night in Novi.
The Denver-based law firm is representing more than 50 alleged victims of sexual misconduct, as of the meeting, from now-deceased University physician Robert Anderson.
The Wednesday night press conference happened hours after the first lawsuit was filed against the University regarding Anderson’s behavior in U.S. District Court. Shea Law Firm in Southfield is working with Mike Cox Law Firm based in Livonia to represent the unnamed plaintiff, a former wrestler who alleges Anderson abused him at least 35 different times in the 1980s. More lawsuits are expected to be filed in the coming days, The Detroit News reported Wednesday afternoon.
Parker Stinar, the lead attorney on the case, joined Michael Nimmo and Dan Sloane, partners at the Denver-based law firm, for a press conference where they discussed the legal issues surrounding their case. Stinar said they hope to keep their clients — which include men and women, former members of multiple athletic teams, medical students and current and former University employees — anonymous and are not planning on pursuing a lawsuit at this time in order to keep their identities confidential.
Stinar said the goals of holding the University accountable, providing a safe platform for victims to come forward and uncovering the truth can be achieved without a public-facing lawsuit. He said his firm has taken issue with the University’s independent investigation, which is being run by D.C.-based law firm Steptoe & Johnson, and does not encourage victims to call their hotline.
“The clients that we represent love and cherish the University of Michigan — some of our clients are still employed by the University of Michigan,” Stinar said. “Our clients had expressed to us that they don’t want to be alienated or punished by the University of Michigan, and they don’t want the University of Michigan to be dragged through the mud in this investigation. In respect to our clients’ wishes and requests, we have developed a legal strategy to accomplish our three stated goals by working with the University of Michigan directly while maintaining our clients’ confidentiality and not resorting to a public lawsuit at this time.”
The allegations of sexual abuse came to light in late-February, with Anderson being named as the perpetrator in reported instances spanning more than 30 years from the 1960s to 1990s. The accusations have come mainly from former student-athletes at the University.
In 2018, former wrestler Tad Deluca wrote a letter to Athletic Director Warde Manuel accusing Anderson of sexual abuse during medical examinations in the 1970s. A formal investigation was launched in 2018 and the allegations were forwarded to the University’s Office of Institutional Equity and campus police.
The Washtenaw County prosecutor’s office declined to pursue criminal charges because Anderson is deceased. Anderson, who died in 2008 at the age of 80, held multiple positions at the University, including University Health Service director, Athletic Department physician and football team doctor.
The Detroit Free Press published an article last week containing reports that Anderson traded sexual favors for physician letters exempting young men from service in the Vietnam War.
As of Monday, the University received more than 100 unique complaints of sexual misconduct involving Anderson.
In response to the accusations, the University set up a hotline for people to report instances of sexual misconduct and has announced free counseling services to anyone affected. University President Mark Schlissel released a statement on Feb. 25 noting an independent law firm is conducting an investigation into the accusations against Anderson and emphasized maintaining the privacy and safety of those who come forward.
“First, through an independent, external investigation team, the university will conduct an unflinching review of the facts — wherever they may lead — and will then provide to the public a full accounting of the harms caused to former patients by Anderson as well as any institutional failings that allowed him to keep practicing,” Schlissel wrote. “We promise to fully respect the privacy and confidentiality of witnesses as we do this.”
Stinar said they have not felt the University has adequately responded to their concerns about the hotline during their meetings. Because of this, he said he would not recommend people use it.
The statement noted the investigation will jump off the previous police investigation that took place in 2018 after the University initially received these allegations. A redacted version of the 91-page report from this investigation has been made available to the public, Schlissel said.
The allegations follow University Provost Martin Philbert being placed on leave on Jan. 22 in response to allegations of sexual misconduct. Engineering professor Jason Mars has also faced criticism after The Verge published an article on Feb. 13 connecting his company with a culture of abuse and harassment, though Mars is currently employed by the University.
On Feb. 27, three alleged victims — former University wrestlers Tad Deluca, Thomas Evashevski and Andy Hrovat, who also competed in the Olympics — spoke publicly for the first time. Deluca submitted a letter in 1975 accusing Anderson of sexual abuse when he was a University student from 1972-1976 — when late Don Canham was the athletic director at the time — and again in 2018 with the same allegations to current Manuel, though he said that these letters were ignored.
New clients who have alleged sexual misconduct from Anderson include two former football players who played on the national championship-winning team in 1997 and an ex-hockey player who went on to play in the National Hockey League.
At the press conference Wednesday night, Nimmo said the firm has met with the University to develop an open line of communication and to create safeguards to protect their clients’ confidentiality. Nimmo said their law firm believes the University is open to working with them to achieve these goals without a lawsuit and while keeping their clients’ identities private.
“Based on our needs, we believe that the University is willing to work with us,” Nimmo said. “We intend on continuing to reach out to the University and speak with them to accomplish these goals.”
Stinar noted the courage their clients have shown in coming forward and hopes the University will take complaints, like Deluca’s ignored letters, seriously in the future.
“One voice should no longer be ignored until it reaches 100,” Stinar said. “One voice should prompt an investigation. One voice should be enough.”
Similarly, Sloane said he hopes other institutions, in addition to the University, will take steps to ensure these incidents will never happen again.
“Institutions need to take note of what went on and do whatever they can to ensure it does not go on in the future,” Sloane said. “That’s part of accountability for the University of Michigan and accountability everywhere else.”